Today I went back to work for a noon to 9pm shift. I had to wear a sandal on my left foot because it couldn't stand the confining pressure of my shoe. I got bitched at because my jeans had a torn knee; fair enough, but I hadn't had the time to replace them, and I'll be darned if I'll wear my good clothing when they expect me to go rack-diving and lugging around 80 pound boxes. Anyway, I managed to keep my foot elevated and out of the way, though it did require some contortions.

Everything started out normally. I closed a $17k+ sale and worked with a few other customers, setting up times for them to come back after Wednesday to buy. I clocked out a bit late for "lunch" (4:20pm) and headed home. Mr. Maylith had the day off, which made my lunch hour especially pleasant. I baked off the last portion of a big Costco pizza, and we made a party of it. As I was readying to go back to work, I checked my temperature (as I've been doing 2-3 times a day) and frowned. 98.8°F, after I'd brushed my teeth using cold water? Hmmm. Well, I was due to take my next antibiotic at 6pm, not to worry.

As I pulled into a parking spot, I noticed the sunlight falling on my bare forearm, and saw the relief, in shadows, of raised, reddish lumps all over it. I had one of those "what the heck?" moments, and checked my other arm. Same thing: hives, lots of them. A quick peek down my shirt: still more hives. About then it became an "oh, shit!" moment.

I tried to call to my husband, but all I got was his voice mailbox system. I left a rather scathing message about how the reason why we got these cellphones was to be able reach one another in an emergency, and that I was having an allergic reaction and needed him.

In retrospect, I should have turned around and driven straight to the hospital, but I'd had reactions to antibiotics before and they had never been anything worse than a rash. Furthermore, I was completely confused, because I'd told the people in the ER not to give me anything related to penicillin, and I didn't understand what I could possibly be reacting to. (While I've had basic training in pharmacology, that was over five years ago and it certainly does not make me an expert in which brand names are associated with which drugs.) So, I was concerned, but not frantic. I went inside, put down my day planner on my desk, and clocked in at 5:24pm, about half an hour before my next appointment was due. I figured I'd place a call to the hospital, tell them I was coming, take care of my customer, and then leave.

I dug the discharge sheet from Saturday out of my purse, and looked for a phone number. Completely unhelpfully, it read "please contact the hospital if any of these things happen..." No phone number. Wonderful. So, I then feel for my phonebook which I keep hidden under my desk top. (It's a weird desk; there's a secondary shelf about 5 inches under the main countertop which provides a handy hideyhole, but mainly it's a cheap way to make room for the keyboard shelf.) The phonebook was gone – someone had taken it, even though I had brought it from home and had written my name on it. Some people are just too rude for words.

I went looking for my immediate supervisor or her boss, but neither were in the building, so I went back to my desk and called up the phone room to find out who the floor manager on duty was.

As I was going back out onto the floor, I met a friend, a fellow with whom I get along with quite well. I held up my arm and said, "Isn't that nice?" or some such. He took one look and said, "That's an allergic reaction." I nodded and said, "Yeah, I know." I must've seemed nonchalant to him — I guess I was, in fact — but in any event, he said "Go see a doctor, NOW."

All this time I'd started to feel rather odd, so I was quite inclined to agree with him. I had to cross the entire store to get to the phone room. By the time I got there, I felt a little out of breath from the fast walk. I walked around the sensomatic gate, behind the service desk, got to the doorway, and put a hand on the doorjamb because I suddenly didn't feel so steady anymore. The three gals in the phone room jumped up as one, asking me if I was alright. I took a breath and said, "No. I need to see a doctor, now." And that's when my breathing shut down.

They sat me down in a chair — I'm a little foggy on the exact order of all that happened next — but there was talk about how one of them should drive me to the nearby walk-in clinic, but another voice said, heck no, I'm calling 911. By then, I was literally sobbing for breath. It felt like a very bad asthma attack, but I haven't had asthma problems for years. I managed to tell them what medicines I was taking, and one gal told me she had the same allergy to Keflex and kept me focused on breathing. In the background, I heard someone phone the store manager about what was going on. I was asked if they could call anyone for me, and, between gasps, I managed to say I'd already left my husband a message. Someone knew he worked at a sister store of ours and asked if he was there. I shook my head no, and finally had to write down his cell number because I couldn't speak anymore. I felt very dazed and detached.

Next thing I knew, there were sirens in the distance, and my store manager and the other people in her office magically appeared from their oh-so-important meeting. I ignored them. I wrote down my locker combination so someone could fetch my purse, and someone else got my dayrunner from my desk. I remember thinking I needed it because it had names and phone numbers in it. Yet another someone (sorry, I wasn't tracking well at the time) got me out of my apron. I heard a voice fussing that I hadn't clocked out, and another saying "We'll just cross-clock her." Shortly after that, the room was chock full of paramedics. I counted five, maybe a few more. I was still quite dazed and couldn't seem to breathe; it was difficult to see through the grey fuzz or to hear instructions, much less follow them, but I kept trying.

Shortly, I had a clip on a fingertip to measure the level of oxygen in my blood, a blood pressure cuff on my arm, EKG leads on all four limbs, and I don't know what else. I heard one of them record my blood sugar level out loud, so they must've stuck me, but I don't remember it. There was talk of getting me hooked into an IV the moment they got me in the ambulance. As I was helped onto the gurney (with my torso elevated, to help my breathing), I saw my friend there, looking on. I was glad to see him, but it was beyond me to wave.

So, the ambulance. I'd never been in one. As it turned out, they were on a training run, so the tyro got to put the IV in. He did a good job of it. They all crowded around for a while – I remember hearing the noise of a lot of chatter I didn't track at all – and then most of them went back to the firetruck and off we went. I vaguely remember, along the way, the senior paramedic coaching the newbie on. I was amused by that, in a sentimental way, and went along with it seeing as how I've been a guinea pig countless times before with fellow students. Well, it was part sentiment, and part anchoring on the interchange to help me avoid panic over the realization that breathing was now a luxury, not a given. Anyway, they started me on intravenous Benedryl and put me on oxygen. Apparently my oxygen perfusion was good, but it still felt like there was a rather dense fuzz between me and the rest of the atmosphere. I heard the senior tell the tyro "Treat the patient, not the symptoms" as he was giving me oxygen. In a way it was a good thing that I could hardly breathe, because I might have burst out laughing otherwise. Maybe the O2 was a placebo, maybe not, but whatever, it helped.

After all that rush, things slowed down once we got to the ER. I was transferred to a wheelchair and parked in admissions. Though I was breathing a little better, I was still quite woozy and felt extremely tired. There was a small girl in the room who drove me to distraction by asking her parents incessant, loud questions about me. It took a while to get me admitted, during which time I encountered the PA I'd seen two days before. She had a double-take when she recognized me, and asked what was going on. I said, with my tone as neutral as possible, though a bit flawed by difficulty breathing, "Remember the Keflex? I'm allergic to it." Apparently nonplussed, she said,

"Usually if the only reaction you have to penicillin is a rash, you don't react to Keflex. I guess you just got lucky!"

Again, standard disclaimers apply. I had TOLD THEM, multiple times, not to give me penicillin or anything remotely related to penicillin! Argh! (I didn't know, at the time that they were shooting that crap into my veins, that Keflex is related to penicillin. Worse, after they gave it to me intravenously, they then told me to take two grams a day of the same stuff by mouth!)

The rest of the evening was fairly uneventful. I got parked in the corridor again. I felt freezing cold, and wasn't given a blanket when I first came in; I finally had to ask a passerby for one. This time, an MD finally attended me. He said rather than giving me more medication, they were going to put me under observation, give me a prescription for a different antibiotic, and write "no cephalosporins" all over my chart.

Nurses checked on me at intervals. After a while, I was able to sit up long enough to take down notes about what had happened on a scrap of paper that had been in my purse. Then I laid back to rest again. The hives did not change, but eventually I was breathing a little better, and I told them I wanted to go home. After still more waiting, they yanked the IV line and I got the prescription for the new antibiotic, along with my discharge notice. I was told to follow up with my regular doctor (with whom I'd already scheduled an appointment) and then told "You're free to go."

Seeing as how I was stranded there, I attempted to call my husband again. As it turned out, he had been in the shower the first time I called, and he was already en route to the hospital. I felt ashamed for lashing out at him in my earlier message, even though I had been panicking at the time. Lady bless him for being so patient with me.

He picked me up a few minutes later. We went to get my prescription filled and some OTC Benedryl tablets. I felt up to driving home, so we went back to my workplace to get the second car, along with my pack which had been left behind.

On the way home, I stopped at the supermarket. There, to my surprise, I ran into one of the general contractors I had worked with earlier that same day; he was shopping with his wife. They're old friends of mine, so I filled them in on what had happened. His wife had heard about my colorful toe and foot, and wanted to see. It was nice to have a good old-fashioned gossiping session, and even better to stretch my legs a little after lying on that gurney for so long, even though my foot still hurt quite a bit.

Once home, I disposed of the Keflex, downed my meds, and was out like a light.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

I still have a low-grade fever and the rash. Thank goodness I just happened to have yesterday and today off, as I have no more sick time. At least I've gotten some rest, though it's very frustrating in a way because I'd planned to do a lot of work around the house these last two days, and accomplished almost none of it.

Aside from the still colorful toe/foot, I've now got not one but two decorative bruises at the IV sites, one on my right wrist (a monster 5"/13cm long blotch), the other on the back of my left hand (a 1.5"/4cm diameter spot, courtesy of the tyro; good for him!)

This writeup brought to you by the number 1, the letter K, large amounts of Benedryl and codeine, and a fever. Sorry about the mess.